Martin Truex Jr, the 37-year old from New Jersey capped off a fantastic season by narrowly fending off fellow championship contender Kyle Busch to win the Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Truex Jr started on the front row alongside Denny Hamlin and took the lead in the first few laps of the race. He later fell down the order as his tyres started to wear out lap after lap, but he made up several spots after a green flag pitstop. At the end of a tough first stage, Truex Jr finished fifth with Kyle Larson leading the way and all three of his championship rivals finishing ahead of him.
The second stage turned out to be much smoother for the driver of the #78 Furniture Row Toyota as a smart and well executed strategy helped him gain several places; the car looked very promising and was performing just as the team wanted it to. The two-time Xfinity Series champion finished second to stage winner Kyle Larson and seemed to be on his way to become the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
Although Truex Jr was deemed as the favourite to win the title thanks to his domination on 1.5 mile tracks, like the Homestead-Miami Speedway and his excellent record throughout the season, winning the championship wasn’t as easy for him as the statistics say; Kyle Busch became a major hurdle to overcome in the third and final stage.
While Truex Jr, Harvick and Keselowski went for alternate strategies in the final stage, the #18 team of Kyle Busch decided to stick to the plan and pit on the lap they had decided before the race, much later than the other drivers of the Championship 4.
Busch held the lead but Truex Jr and co unlapped themselves and were much faster than the leader, chewing up his advantage lap after lap. Eventually, Kyle did pit for four tyres and fuel; the fresh Goodyear tyres worked very well for the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series Champion as he instantly started to make up lost ground.
The race reached its climax with around thirty laps to go; Martin Truex Jr led the field but he was slowing down as a result of his tyres wearing out and a determined Kyle Busch, whose tyres were at their prime, was hunting him down.
Eventually, Busch caught up with Truex Jr and a memorable battle followed; Busch was faster than leader on the first two turns while Truex Jr pulled away on the last two. This continued until the final lap, when Martin Truex Jr saw the chequered flag ahead of Kyle Busch to win the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
An emotional Truex Jr did burnouts on the front stretch in front of his army of fans as he felt a wave of happiness and relief move through his body. Martin and his team have been through lots of adversities over the years, including Martin’s long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex battling cancer and now, they have finally achieved what they were aspiring for since a very long time.
Truex Jr exhibited a big smile as he and his crew chief Cole Pearn lifted the Monster Energy Championship Trophy together, a trophy which honored the efforts of the entire team and not just the driver.
In the end, a dominant Truex Jr won 8 races this season and broke multiple records en route to winning the Regular Season Championship and eventually, the Playoff Championship as well.
The Ford EcoBoost 400 also marked the end of an era as two iconic drivers, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr stepped away from full-time competition.
Earnhardt Jr, who won both, the Xfinity Series Championship and the Daytona 500 twice announced earlier this year that he was calling time on his career and that he would go on and join the NBCSN commentary team for 2018. Matt Kenseth has not yet found a drive for 2018 but is most likely to hang up his helmet after a long and illustrious career.
At the end of a highly entertaining and a memorable season, Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing have been crowned as the champions, with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliot rounding off the Top 5.
Now, teams and drivers switch their attentions towards the ‘Great American Race’, the Daytona 500 which will be contested on the 18th February 2018.